The drive South on I5 to Buttonwillow Raceway is long, straight, and incredibly dull. It’s even more mind-numbing if you find yourself running it late at night, as I, unfortunately, do pretty consistently. However, it does give you ample time to cycle through your track checklist to make sure that you have everything for the next two days (and then spend a few hours sitting in silent regret once you realize that you forgot to pack your gloves).
Ill-fitting, throughly abused RS Taichi race suit that I’d bought from my roommate for $50 and crashed several times, now held together with duct tape in several spots? Check. Sidi Vortices that had more spare bolts than original fasteners? Check. Clapped-out ZX6R that’s been crashed more times than I can count on one hand, held together with zipties and JB Weld, sporting duct tape number plates? Check. Helmet, gloves, tire warmers, stands, and the countless other necessary items? Eh… Check. Probably.
I was more than a little nervous as I trundled closer and closer to Buttonwillow. I’d been working my way up the ranks at trackdays for almost two years, but this was my first foray into any sort of organized racing. Even though I knew vaguely what to expect after having spectated a few races from the previous season, it was still pretty intimidating. The going fast bit seemed straightforward enough, but the tech requirements, grid organization, launch strategies, and other pieces that involved following relatively simple directions worried me. I wasn’t super great at that.
Eventually, I arrived. At 2AM. Pretty par for the course. I managed to drag myself out of bed after a refreshing four hours of sleep and got the bike ready for Friday practice. The bike felt sticky and predictable all of Friday, and by the last session I felt reasonably comfortable on it again. I duct taped some novice plates on, crafted some professional-looking numbers out of slightly thinner duct tape, and made a few last minute modifications to the ZX6R in an attempt to get it to pass tech the next morning. Satisfied with the amount of tape and silicone that I’d smeared all over it, I retired to the van and managed to get a reasonable amount of sleep.
Saturday started off a bit less rushed. I wheeled my bike through tech and only got flagged for one (1!) violation. I just needed to reapply safety wire to my oil filter since the existing wrap broke when the tech inspector touched it. After throwing a fresh strand of wire on the filter, I returned to the inspection line and miraculously passed with no further comments.
Next up was the new racer’s school (NRS). I was quite a bit late to the classroom session (by no fault of my own; there was absolutely zero signage indicating where it was and none of the organizers that I asked knew where it was located), but I managed to make it in time to catch a bit more than half the lesson. After that we had on track evaluation, which I promptly missed (this, unsurprisingly, was my fault). Thankfully they were able to slot my eval into the next practice session, so I was still able to get on track and skillfully fool an instructor into thinking that I was not an immediate danger to myself or others.
After passing tech, (mostly) attending the NRS, and completing my on-track evaluation, I was almost qualified for my AFM license. However, there was still one final requirement: finishing in Clubman Middleweight. Held at the end of the day on Saturday, Clubman Middleweight pits a full grid of novices against each other for a chaotic standing start followed by six laps of Road Rash-style scrabbling for the podium. No points are awarded for this race; either you’re competing for bragging rights as the fastest of the slow, or you’re like me and enjoy the absolute chaos that is wheel-to-wheel racing with other people who have no clue what they’re doing.
I was a bit tense during my first race. If I crashed I wouldn’t get my license, so I decided to hold back a bit and try not to do anything too stupid. Trying to take it easy still didn’t ease my nerves though, and about halfway through the race I started getting terrible wrist and hand cramps. I managed to hold it together until the finish and took 7th out of 15. I didn’t finish in a stellar position, but now I had my license!
After my issues in Clubman Middleweight I took some time to adjust the angle of my clipons in an attempt to avoid further cramps. This was only marginally effective, but I managed to grab 9 positions and placed 6th out of the 17 in my class.
At this point I started to get a bit more comfortable with racing and managed to loosen up a hair. Between that and an active effort to remind myself to relax my hands on the grips, my cramps started to become less severe. I took 7th out of 12.
I almost eliminated my cramping issues and squeezed out a 1:58.814, my best time of the weekend. I also finished second place in my class! Unfortunately this wasn’t much of an achievement since there was only one other person in 750SS Novice, but I still got a trophy for it.